Tipping the Balance Against Castro

By , Eric Ehrmann, of Charlottesville, Va., writes on Latin America. Christopher Barton is the assistant director of the Center for National Security Law at the University of Virginia. The views expressed are their own.

LONG the vanguard of Fidel Castro's revolution, the Cuban intellectual community is turning against Castro's leadership. La Gaceta, the official journal of Cuba's Union of Artists and Writers (UNEAC), recently published an article by novelist Jesus Diaz calling for a plebiscite that would enable the Cuban people to determine their political future. Alberto Jorge Carol, executive secretary of UNEAC until he defected last month in Madrid, says 90 percent of UNEAC members oppose the Castro regime.

The Diaz article criticized the Castro regime for its political and economic misdeeds and called for an end to repression. Mr. Diaz urged Cubans to reject the Communist Party line blaming the nation's economic problems on the US trade embargo. Now living in Germany, Diaz won international recognition during the 1970s for his novel, "The Earth's Initials," the story of an intellectual who is pressed by his friends to join the Cuban Communist Party.

Seven professors at the Havana Polytechnic Institute have been fired for signing a petition calling for academic freedom, release of political prisoners, and respect for human rights. Poet and dissident leader Maria Elena Cruz Varela is serving a two-year prison term for holding meetings at which political and economic reforms were discussed. Filmmakers Marco Antonio Abad and Jorge Diaz face 15 years imprisonment for producing a videotape critical of the Castro government.

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Mounting intellectual criticism parallels declining productivity among Cuban workers during the critical harvest season. Severe cutbacks in electric power generation and short rations of basic foods and consumer items have caused morale to plummet in urban industrial areas. Shortages of fuel and spare parts for farm equipment and inadequate labor have substantially reduced the government's projections for this year's sugar, coffee, and tobacco harvests. The prospect of sharply reduced earnings from these

cash crops makes it more difficult for the Castro government to support its social programs and shrinks Cuba's purchasing power abroad.

Castro and senior military officers have stepped up their visits to collective farms and factories in an effort to spark workers into action. The Havana official trade union publication Trabajadores, which usually trumpets the triumphs of Cuban workers, has published a series of articles criticizing the "passive" work ethic of Cuban managers and laborers.

With millions of Cubans facing increased deprivation, Cuba's rubber-stamp national assembly on July 12 approved constitutional amendments that empower Castro to decree a state of emergency that would effectively put the country under martial law. A new National Defense Council, headed by Castro, is designed to prevent challenges from ambitious military officers.

Castro has reason to be concerned about the loyalty of his armed forces and security services. After a widely publicized show trial, Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa, once Castro's senior Army commander, was executed in 1989 for alleged involvement in narcotics trafficking. Some analysts, however, believe General Ochoa was eliminated for organizing an officers plot against Castro.

SINCE the Ochoa show trial, discontent within the Cuban military has escalated. With Castro no longer able to finance revolutions in Latin America and Africa, Cuba's huge Army is now struggling to define its future role.

Another constitutional change designed to consolidate Castro's power permits the Cuban government to earn hard currency by selling off nonstrategic state enterprises and property to foreign investors who are approved by Castro. Companies that trade with Cuba have a responsibility to use their leverage to provide economic benefits to all Cubans, not just Castro's elite. Following the effective precedent of multinational efforts to track investment in South Africa during the 1980s, concerned citizens in th e democracies can monitor foreign investment in Cuba and hold foreign firms accountable for propping up a communist regime.

Efforts to promote democracy and reform within Cuba were dealt a setback in Geneva on Aug. 4, when the 44th general session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNHRC) elected a pro-Castro Cuban, Miguel Alfonso Martinez, as its president. Mr. Alfonso pressed hard in 1975 for passage of the UN's "Zionism is racism" resolution and helped lead the unsuccessful fight against repealing the resolution in 1990.

Instead of allowing Alfonzo to gloss over Castro's police-state tactics, the UNHRC should intensify its probe of human rights violations in Cuba. Imprisoned intellectuals like Ms. Cruz, Mr. Abad, and others merit our concern today because they will play a key role in shaping Cuba's democratic future.

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